Government tool sheds light on rate hike requests

Insurance customers will now be able to find out when health plans are considering steep premium hike thanks to a new Web-based tool the Obama administration launched Friday.

The healthcare reform law requires health plans to publicly justify rate hikes of 10 percent or more, even though it doesn't give federal regulators the ability to reject them (that's still up to the states). The new Web tool lets customers search for proposed rate hikes by state.

"This is just a start, and over time we will be posting these requests as they come in," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post announcing the new searchable site. "Be sure to check back, though, as we'll be updating the website regularly.

"And if you see your insurance company’s rate and don’t like its reason for raising it, you may be able to take your business elsewhere. Check out your options on"